Stagecraft Chapter Six
Hannah stole a look at the paper in her backpack and nearly chuckled. Is this an invite or a memo? She thought of Coach Wilder playing with fonts and trying to make his invite to the Annual Varsity Lacrosse Dinner look exclusive. Not exactly an invite to the Met Gala. But I’ll take it. And I’m pretty sure the whole school knows the “secret location” is Applebees. Still she couldn’t believe she was going to be Brody Wolcott’s date for the Lacrosse Dinner. Hannah looked forward to seeing him for their date that night too.
Even with Brody in her near future, dance rehearsal dragged. Learn a combo. Ms. Panzini changes something. Samuels and Panzini consult, and Panzini changes it again.
The dancers learned (and relearned) a small ensemble dance number in the first act. In Stagecraft, a small-town poor girl named Aurelia leaves her abusive father and horrible boyfriend to make it big in the city. Things don’t go exactly as planned at first but in the end, she lives out her dream as a Broadway star. The Whispering Hills cast rehearsed “Make It,” the upbeat song that Aurelia sings with her waitress friends in the cheerless diner where she works.
Mr. Samuels pulled Skylar up front, “Remember, Skylar, you’re poor. You have nothing. No prospects. You depend on others. But now you have to depend on yourself.” The motivation for the scene.
This is ludicrous. Skylar as a poor girl with no prospects? Her big decision lately was whether to play D1 softball (yes, Skylar was a wicked pitcher) at UConn or go to Daddy’s alma mater—Swarthmore. Either way, she would meet some rich jock douchecanoe, get married, get her MBA, quit working as soon as her first baby came along, and live out the rest of her life terrorizing the other members of the Bronxville Junior League. But when the scene started, Skylar played the part effortlessly. Even Hannah pitied her for a few seconds.
Hannah, Greg, Cynthia, Skylar, Paige, and a few others were there to learn the dance. For once, Hannah was actually inthe number. Just a patron in the diner but still…
Cynthia played the salty old crow who warns the beautiful ingénue about staying in “this no good town.” Greg played the cook at the greasy spoon. He got to bust through the swinging kitchen door at one point and yell at the waitresses to get back to work. “Blue plate specials aren’t going to serve themselves, ladies!”
Close to the end of rehearsal, Ms. Panzini and Mr. Samuels got into an argument. No one dared leave the dance floor. No one dared sit down. No one dared to check a cell phone. Both adults were hyper-aware that the room was watching. This is intense. But maybe, if they get pissed enough, they will let us out early. Then I’ll have more time to get ready for my date with Brody.
Suddenly, Ms. Panzini turned to the group, face red with stress and physical exertion. She called to the student director, “Sarah, run the dance from the bridge. Keep running it until the timing of the turns are right.”
Crap. Sarah is definitely going to make us work until the end. No chance of getting an extra twenty minutes to prep. Sarah Young popped up from the floor, a misty area left on the mirror where she’d been leaning. Skylar turned to Hannah and made a face. Hannah raised an eyebrow back. No one can stomach Sarah—especially when Sarah has been given permission to yell at the cast.
Sarah drilled the same three counts of eight over and over again. Everyone was sweaty and exhausted. Hannah rubbed the stitch in her side. Greg went to grab a drink of water.
“I didn’t say you could get any water yet,” Sarah put her hands on her hips.
Greg stood his ground. He didn’t answer but took a swig of water, licked his lips and let out an “ahh” like he was trying out for a Pepsi commercial. Sarah cocked her head and gritted her teeth. Mr. Samuels and Ms. Panzini were still squabbling. Panzini motioned with her arms. Samuels pointed at his chest and then at the floor.
Greg walked over to Paige who was panting for air. “Make It” featured Paige heavily. Even though the song was short, Paige just did the choreography several times. She needed a break. Greg handed her the bottle of water and leered at Sarah, “When you can get up here and do this dance fifty times full out, then you can decide when we get water breaks.”
Sarah looked over at the teachers for back up but neither adult noticed. She put her hair up in a tight ponytail, the bottom half of her head shaved, her neck tattooed with a Chinese symbol.
Is she going to fight, Greg? For a moment, all the grief and anxiety faded as Hannah waited for what would be the greatest confrontation in Whispering Hill’s history. Hannah stared at the back of Sarah’s head, spying Sarah’s ridiculous tattoo placed beneath her half-shaven bob. She remembered when Sarah explained the tattoo to everyone in Study Hall. “It’s the Japanese symbol for honor,” she had said pedantically. “It’s a samurai thing. Do you even know…”
“What a samurai is?” Skylar interrupted. “Yes, we know. Doesn’t change the fact that you just inked the Mitsubishi logo on yourself…permanently.”
Hannah smirked at the tattoo now. She wondered if tough Sarah Young would escalate this exchange with Greg even further. The whole cast held their collective breath.
“Run it back,” Sarah called to the crew geek at the sound system. Then she stared at Greg with a force that could’ve turned him straight again, “Line up.”
Paige took a dainty sip, “I’m okay. Thanks Greg. I’m okay, really.”
Panzini and Samuels erupted. Horrific and glorious at the same time.
“Then I’ll just get someone else to do it!” Mr. Samuels threatened. Beastly veins popped out of his neck.
Ms. Panzini grabbed her bag. It almost hit Mr. Samuels in the chest. She shouted back, “You’re going to fire me, Aaron? Go ahead and try. I’ve been here for over ten years!” She turned to the cast, tears rising to her eyes, “Rehearsal is over. Go home!” She stormed out, slamming the door and shaking the speakers attached to the wall around it.
Mr. Samuels brushed his shirt downward and ran his tongue between his cheek and his teeth. “Everyone except Skylar is dismissed. Get your things quickly and go,” he announced. Then, as an afterthought, “Good job today everyone. Especially you, Paige. Good job.”
Mr. Samuels took Skylar to the center of the room by the elbow. She looked up at him demurely, her face barely glistening with perspiration. Hannah saw herself in the mirror. Her face was cherry red, and her hair line soaked. I look like I just ran the marathon and Skylar looks like she just had a romp in the bedroom. No wonder everyone is attracted to her.
When Hannah arrived home from rehearsal, she only had about thirty minutes to shower and get ready before Brody would be at her door. Do I do my hair or my make-up? Only one of these is getting done well. At least I don’t smell like feet and dance studio and drama. Hannah stepped out of the shower and started toweling off. However, she paused when she noticed herself in the mirror. Dripping wet and naked, Hannah couldn’t help but take notice of how her body responded to the longer, more challenging rehearsals. Her thighs looked slender but powerful. Her abdominals were tight, defined even. She noticed the small shelf on each side of her oblique muscles, just above her hips. And her damp hair trickled down on straighter, stronger shoulders.
She pulled on her underwear, grabbed her phone, and took a mirror selfie. Then another. Then another. Crap, I don’t have time to get this pose right. Oh well. Hannah put her phone down and decided she’d find the right filter later.
Dashing back to the bathroom vanity, she painted her face full of make-up. She stared for way too long at her open closet. What says I don’t care and makes me look hot at the same time?
When the doorbell rang, Hannah was still standing in her panties. “Shoot!” Why did Brody Wolcott have to be so damn punctual? And so damn polite?
Hannah overheard Brody talking to her mother. Just the diner. Yes, they wouldn’t be out too late. Then he delved into the end of Death of a Salesman. Hannah could only imagine the dorky look on her mother’s face. She fought with her leggings as she wondered how perfect Brody could be related to insipid Cynthia Wolcott. They actually shared a womb? Hannah coiled a scarf around her neck and put her damp hair in a loose ponytail. Out of the dirty clothes pile, she grabbed her Citizens of Humanity denim jacket—a birthday gift from Skylar—and gave it a sniff.
“Hannah, your date is here,” Gillian Cross almost sang the words.
“Be right down!” Hannah pulled on her Uggs.
Hannah trotted downstairs to meet Brody’s bright eyes and even brighter smile.
A denim jacket doesn’t cut it on a cold March night. She wished she’d put on her school fleece instead. Brody was right behind her by the time they reached the car. Is he going to open the car door for me? Wow, chivalry isn’t dead.
But it was even better.
“Here,” he whispered as he slipped off his varsity jacket and put it around her shoulders, “it’s pretty cold.” Brody rubbed Hannah’s shoulders and chuckled a little.
And then he opened the car door. This impromptu date was turning into a cinematic romance starring Hannah Cross.
They discussed school and the play and sports on the way to the diner. It was polite and small. Play conversations were too often weighted with history and emotional turmoil when Hannah talked with the clique. So it was a nice respite.
Brody found a parking spot under a broken street lamp. No one around. He leaned in and kissed Hannah. Just like that. Soft and tender. Goose bumps rose up all over Hannah’s neck when his cold fingertips explored the bottom of her hairline. “Sorry, just couldn’t wait until after we ate, I guess,” Brody grinned mischievously.
All of a sudden Hannah felt hot in her scarf and Brody’s huge jacket. She yanked the scarf away from her neck and pulled Brody in awkwardly. Now his whole torso was on the passenger side of the car and the two were kissing again. Faster, harder this time. Hannah opened her mouth readily and let his tongue in.
After several glorious minutes, Brody pulled away, “Wow. We need to go inside because…” He looked at his crotch and laughed, “We need to go inside while I can still walk inside.” Hannah giggled knowing that if she pulled him in again it would drive Brody crazy in the best of ways.
“Let’s go inside then,” Hannah started getting out. If I pull him in again, I might be getting more than I bargained for on a first date.
They sat down and ordered drinks—Coke for Brody and hot water with lemon for Hannah.
“Such a performer,” Brody smiled.
“My sister lives on hot water with lemon and honey. You know, during play season,” Brody used air quotes when he said “play season.” Typical for someone who played three varsity sports. But Hannah just tilted her head and gave him a flirtatious grin. Okay, you can make fun of the play kids a little bit.
She was about to ask what Brody was ordering when he continued, “Yeah, Cynthia drinks that all day. And she practically lives on salads with no dressing and Cliff bars. It’s ridiculous.”
Do we have to talk about Cynthia? Like ever?
“We all do,” Hannah replied then pretended to read the menu. Then she had a brilliant idea. I should say something nice about Cynthia. Evidently, Brody doesn’t realize how colossally annoying she is.
“Well, all the lemons and honey are working out well for Cynthia. She sounded amazing today in rehearsal,” Hannah beamed and waited for the compliment to register. Brody looked up and searched Hannah’s face for a moment.
He asked, “What are you going to have?”
“Greek salad.” After seeing her drum tight body in the bathroom mirror, Hannah was determined to keep it that way. No disco fries for me.
“Well, I’m getting a burger with fries and onion rings.” And when the food came, he placed the basket of fries and rings between them and asked, “Is ketchup on the side okay?”
She was halfway down the wedding aisle when Brody did his impression of Ms. Panzini teaching intro to jazz dance—a class all freshmen, even the jocks, had to take.
Freshmen year was the year Ms. Panzini got engaged. She’s been planning her wedding ever since. And as each year passed, it seemed everyone but Ms. Panzini realized that no matter how big her wedding binder got, this guy wasn’t committing.
“And that binder she has. So many sheet protectors and spreadsheets and seating arrangements,” Brody laughed. Hannah almost snorted her drink.
Things were going well. Maybe too well. Because Skylar walked in. The universe clearly hates me. And then Cynthia and Greg walked in too. Great. Brody had his back to the door. Pretend not to notice them. He doesn’t see them. Hannah looked down at her food and then back at Brody. The diner is huge. Maybe the hostess will sit them far away.
She rapid-fired a bunch of tedious questions about Lacrosse. Brody answered, more emphatically with each question, probably warmed by Hannah’s increasingly detailed thoughts about his favorite sport. The distraction worked for a few minutes. Hannah didn’t catch where the hostess sat Skylar and company. Maybe they didn’t see us either.
But that feeling was short-lived.
“Cyn!” Brody waved at his sister. Hannah turned around too. Skylar gave a pageant wave, Greg nodded, and Cynthia just stared blankly. Brody couldn’t detect it yet, but Hannah could see it right away—Cynthia was shocked and furious that Hannah was out with her precious twin brother.
“Sorry. Probably should’ve gone to Valbrook over in Pemberton, right?” Brody took a big bite of his burger and continued eating. His apology was a shoulder shrug at best. He’s so blissfully unaware. Bet the lacrosse guys don’t deal with this level of tension. I envy him.
It wasn’t Brody’s fault he had Cynthia for a sister. It also wasn’t Brody’s fault that Cynthia hated Hannah. Cynthia hated Hannah because of one person: Skylar Clarke. And it wasn’t long before Cynthia stormed out, crying of course. Hannah rolled her eyes and Brody saw.
“What was that?” He turned his whole torso to see his sister barrel through the doors of the diner. “Do you think Skylar said something to her?”
Hannah’s infatuation with Brody gave in to her extreme dislike of Cynthia. “You know Cynthia,” she answered flippantly and went back to her salad.
Cynthia was pacing outside, waiting for big brother to come and ask her what’s wrong.
Brody’s face flushed, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Hannah lifted her shoulders dramatically, fully committing to the position. I just can’t with Cynthia. I can’t be diplomatic. I can’t pretend to like her. Even if she is genetically connected to the hottest guy in school. It was a decision Hannah would rue for weeks. Nevertheless, she persisted, “I don’t know. They were probably talking about the play. Or maybe Skylar asked Cynthia to pass the salt.”
“Asked her to pass the salt?” he scoffed. “And that stupid play. You guys act like you’re on Broadway.” Brody huffed again, this time louder. “And Skylar Clarke is a real—”
Okay—that’s it. No one calls the play stupid! Hannah interrupted, “Whispering Hills puts on the best shows in Westchester. More than I can say for the lacrosse team. Good job spending all your time playing a sport no one gives a shit about.”
As soon as the words were out, Hannah wished she would take them back. Holy shit! No, no, no. Why did I say that? Why? Because the play is everything. No one talks shit about the play. Her friends were the hardest working kids at Whispering Hills. “I’m out,” Brody reached across the table and grabbed his jacket that was lying next to Hannah. The weight of it upended Hannah’s bag. All her make-up, tampons, cell phone…her everything fell out onto the sticky floor.
“You know, Skylar has been a colossal bitch since middle school,” Brody simmered. “She’s been terrorizing Cynthia for years. But you, I liked you. I asked you out despite your association with self-proclaimed queen of Whispering Hills. Guess I was wrong.” And just like that he was gone. He stopped briefly at the hostess station, pointed at their table, and handed over some cash.
What did I just do? Hannah pushed the salad away and grabbed the basket of onion rings. Hannah always knew that Skylar was broken. But she’s always been good to me. The past four years would have been hellish without Sky. She vouched for Hannah in the rich kid school. Skylar gave Hannah cache. Then the past few weeks welled up inside Hannah. Brody is totally right—Skylar is an awful human being. Can she be saved? As tears came to her eyes, Hannah realized something important. Skylar was reason Cynthia and Hannah hated each other. Sure, Cynthia was childish and annoying but Skylar pit them against each other. She did it for power…or maybe for sport.
Speak of the devil… and she’ll appear.
“Trouble in paradise already?” Skylar Clarke plopped down where Brody had been just minutes before. Hannah boiled. She knew we’d come here. I shouldn’t have told her about the date.
Skylar dipped a fry in ketchup. “It’s not your fault that Cynthia has awkward taboo feelings for her brother.”
“Shut up, Skylar. For once, just shut up.”
“Hey, screw you. I was going to invite you to sit with me and Greg. The Wolcotts are douchebags. Have been since forever. Their daddy owns that Lexus dealership on Pembroke Road. They think their shit doesn’t stink. Don’t take it out on me.”
Hannah leaned over the table, “Maybe if you weren’t so horrible to Cynthia, she wouldn’t freak out when she saw me and Brody together.”
“I don’t have to take this crap, Hannah. You are terrible to Cynthia too. I seem to remember you’re apologizing to her last year after she overheard you saying that there are some people in this world who should just kill themselves.” Skylar raised her eyebrows. She grabbed Hannah’s arm and dug her nails in hard, “So pot meet kettle. Cynthia hates you because of you. And now Brody hates you because of you. You never had a chance with him.”
She trotted away triumphantly.
Hannah walked out—unsure of what else to do. She hoped her friends didn’t see the tears.
It would be a cold, long walk home. But Hannah needed the time to cry and let the crisp air clean out her sinuses.
Later, four texts.
BW: cynthia has been crying for hours
BW: u used me to make her miserable
BW: don’t talk to me anymore and lose the invitation to the lax dinner
BW: u can tell that bitch skylar the same
Hannah sat up in bed. She grabbed her pillow, pressed it onto her face, and screamed as loud as she could. She wept bitter tears. And screamed into the pillow again for good measure.
Her brother knocked on the wall separating their bedrooms and yelled, “Go to sleep, weirdo.”
Hannah looked at the clock. 11:45 pm. I’m never getting to sleep now. She opened her laptop with good intentions. I’ll get some work done.
But instead, Hannah scoured the Internet for news about the accident. She’d already watched the News 12 Westchester clip about a thousand times. That article had a follow up about Will’s services and a message from the Bartlett family. But that was all. The local news story got cross-posted on the Daily News and the New York Post. But again, same information. This is going to blow over. If the police had something, the news would spill it. She tried to relax. I would know if the investigation was getting somewhere. At least everyone at the lunch table agreed.
12:30 am. Still no sleep. Reading the news made Hannah feel restless. Almost involuntarily Hannah pulled on a jacket and shoes. She took the keys to her mother’s minivan and went for a drive. Her mother was none the wiser, fast asleep and likely dreaming of Aaron Samuels. And Ricky, if he was awake, didn’t care enough to stop her.
She got to Skylar’s about twenty minutes later, not even really knowing what brought her there. Hannah had no plan. But deep inside, she wanted to see Skylar, like an invisible thread connected the two of them forever. And Skylar could wind the string up and Hannah would be pulled back, never able to get too far.
Hannah pulled up to the front of the house. She bundled herself tight and walked around to the service entrance. Skylar never set the alarms or locked the doors. Clarke mansion was just an extension of Skylar’s own personality. This enormous expensive house and no security. That’s the kind of wealth the Clarkes had. It was as if the house said, “Go ahead. Come inside. Steal something. I dare you.”
When Hannah got to the back of the house, she saw a gray pick-up truck. Skylar’s Range Rover parked behind it. That’s not the groundskeeper’s car. Why do I recognize it? The truck had a busted taillight and its fender hung askew off the back.
A light came on in the house. The second floor. Skylar’s room. Two figures moved. Hannah looked back at the truck again. Derrick Sullivan’s car. Ugh, really? You had Will Bartlett and now you’re screwing Derrick Sullivan. His greasy hair. His even greasier eyes.
Peering into the flatbed of Derrick’s truck, Hannah saw a bunch of wrenches and screwdrivers, a car jack, something that looked like a hair dryer, and a small plunger-looking tool. Then Hannah spied the spray bottles. How nice of you to take a break from graffiti to have a tryst with Skylar. What a loser. Hannah leaned closer. It’s not graffiti. She let out a moan. Auto paint. Navy blue. Dammit Skylar.
Hannah watched the windows again. Just light now. No figures. She leaned against the truck and waited. A light suddenly streamed from the kitchen windows. Shoot! Hannah tried to get behind the truck. But a piece of her hair that had cascaded down into the flatbed caught on something. She worked the tangle free quickly and hustled behind the pick-up. If Skylar sees me here, I’m so over. She’ll lose her shit.
Hannah sat in the minivan, not daring to start the engine yet. The rumble of her mother’s minivan—dubbed “Lunchbox Lightning” by Ricky—would demand the attention of those inside the house.
Is that a Whispering Hills bumper sticker on Derrick’s truck? I did not see that coming. Did he actually like Whispering Hills? Derrick may have smelled like an odd mix of pizza and car engine but he never smelled of school pride.
Derrick Sullivan was a scholarship kid. One of about twenty who went to Whispering Hills on the Clarke Fellowship. Yes, that Clarke. This endowment was part of an initiative started about four years ago. Bring students from underprivileged communities, namely Pembroke, to Whispering Hills. Even the wording of the initiative on the school website was awful. “We at Whispering Hills want to offer our challenging academic curriculum to a broader base of students. We want our current students to be exposed to racial and socioeconomic diversity for the benefit of the whole learning community.”
Gillian Cross had reeled after the faculty meeting, claiming she would talk the principal and demand a revision. She never did though. And from then on, the Clarke Fellowship brought twenty “diverse” students to Whispering Hills. The privileged student body benefited from a small dose of life outside the bubble. And students like Derrick? Who knows? The Admissions Office always teemed with applicants for the Clarke Fellowship though.
The two figures appeared in the upstairs window again. This time, the figures melded into one. The shadows mingled together in a clandestine dance. I might throw up. She thought of Derrick’s mouth and Skylar’s mouth. It made her queasy.
But Hannah’s disgust gave way to hurt. She hated herself for it. After all that happened today, Hannah was most hurt that Skylar wasn’t available right now. Like before. Like she always was. I want to go back to before.
Skylar ruined Hannah’s chances with Brody. Skylar flirted shamelessly with Aaron Samuels. Skylar never missed an opportunity to tear Hannah down in front of…just about anyone. And yet, here Hannah was, outside the service entrance to Clarke mansion, completely devastated that her best friend was with Derrick. God, I hate myself right now. Hannah’s chest heaved, and she thought again of Katie Greco, of summer camp. Hannah so readily covered for Skylar when she wanted to take Katie out on that little canoeing trip. The trip that ended in Katie Greco almost drowning. And then Katie running away from camp, away from Skylar.
How Skylar ever got Katie to come along was a wonder. Go out to the middle of the lake? No life vests? And Katie was a pathetic swimmer. At least Skylar got the necklace off her. It was my necklace. Hannah thought of the little aquamarine pendant.
I covered for her. Because, that day, Skylar chose Hannah. And it felt good to be chosen.
Copyright ©️ 2019 Kristin Sample All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written consent of the author.
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